Sunday, January 23, 2011

Art is weird.

I've been going through my old school papers and process/sketchbooks. The conclusion I've drawn from this mass of yellow-paged insanity? Art is weird. That, and I used to have legible handwriting.

It all comes back. The sleepless nights at my drafting table. The wasted hours at the copy place. The blinding glow of a computer screen in the dark. The looming and horrendous x-acto blade incident stories. (Thankfully, I only had one. It involved me gathering the courage to go back to the cutting board and find the rest of my finger – not knowing exactly how much I was missing. Only a sliver, nonetheless, unpleasant.)

Color analysis and perspective. Form and function. Deriving meaning from someone's vision. The critiques. The presentations. The deadlines. Uh, well, I guess some of that never left. It just evolved into advertising and marketing.

The funny thing about art is that there are rules, but there are no rules. In fact, you're encouraged to break the rules, but you must know how to do it and have a reason. Art as a science relies on aesthetic balance and intended purpose.

At it's best, art is a rebellion against what exists and a celebration of what's possible. So much of art cannot be learned. You have it or you don't. Basically, you hone your natural skills and learn to bullshit eloquently. Don't get me wrong, it all comes down to selling artistic meaning. And, that's not easy when you've got a room full of business-minded people.

Art thrives between the lines of what's obvious or taken for granted. Sometimes I think it's weird that I love my job so much. It's not like I'm saving lives or anything, but I hope to be inspiring people in the lives they live. Painting pictures through art and messaging. Using humor and authenticity as my mediums of choice. 

Sidenote: Does anyone else still have the school anxiety dreams? You realize you've enrolled in a course and haven't been there yet. Can't find your locker. Can't remember the lock combination anyway. Maybe you find out there was a mistake and you didn't actually graduate so you have to go back. The list goes on. Anyway, like I was saying… art and apparently artists are weird.

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Sunday, January 9, 2011

More time.

It was the summer of 1981. I stepped into a movie theater for the first time, with my father. It was just us and The Fox and the Hound. I felt so lucky for this one-on-one adventure. For an hour and a half we enjoyed the show on the biggest screen I had ever seen. The time flew by. That day I fell in love with movies and visual storytelling.

Growing up, time with my dad was limited. He was a manager and devoted his life to the company he worked for. Exhausted when he was home, no doubt three daughters were a bit much to deal with. My early memories with him reside mostly in summer vacations and holidays.

As I got older, he quietly pushed me to succeed in school and sports. Every hour-and-a-half game, he was there. Every accomplishment, he celebrated. He made time. The thought of disappointing him was something I could never fathom. For the most part, I always tried to follow his advice.

Last Thursday he had triple bypass surgery. My youngest sister sent me a message the moment he was on the heart pump. Indicating he'd be sustained through technology for an hour and a half. I've never felt so helpless. So far away. Knowing that his heart was not beating on it's own. That his life was placed firmly in the hands of a surgeon I didn't know. It was the longest hour and a half of my life. Would the main heart artery graft from his leg artery work? How can they even do something like that?

I still have trouble even physically writing the word artery. If I were there, I would have been a mess. Or passed out. Guaranteed. Although, maybe having to deal with my extreme squeamishness would have helped distract my mom. Thankfully, she's a nurse. And a saint.

I should have been there, even though he told me to wait and see him when he was out. He was so optimistic the night before surgery, I took his advice. As usual.

I feel so very lucky that he's doing well in spite of the long road to recovery before him. I'll hear his voice for the first time today since the procedure. They say once heart patients make it to this point, they start looking forward to feeling better than they have in a long time. That symptoms they've been attributing to aging will disappear. He's been given the gift of more time. And, as a wise man once said, time is luck. Don't waste it.

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Saturday, January 1, 2011

Collaborative creation and Naked Tennis Guy.

It's Sunday morning. I'm surrounded by creatives, Play Doh, random craft items, and butcher-paper-covered tables. Just when I thought things couldn't get more bizarre, a very tall Stefan Mumaw, author and creative director for Reign, walks into the packed room wearing a nun's habit. He welcomes us to the "Church of Creativity" with a tactic for us to remember his main point – that "creativity is a habit."

First of all, where had our childlike craft enthusiasm gone?
We're artists, right? It's funny, the craft situation was so daunting for most of us. We were probably going to have to make something. Right there, with our hands. On the fly. Dear. God.

Scary situation number two, we would most likely be creating things with teams. 
Teams of design-minded strangers. Two more random insights that Stefan made about designers in general:
1. They are the most competitive creatures on earth.
2. Do not play practical jokes on them. Just don't.

As kids, this sea of craft tables would have no doubt been an awesome situation. Somewhere along the way we forgot how to fearlessly create things. How to be so very proud of those ridiculous creations. Boldly hanging them on the fridge for all to see. Unapologetically, basking in glittery-macaroni-pasted glory.

Collaborative creation.
Throughout the challenges, we remembered that creating is fun. We made Sasquatches, amusement park rides for bugs, and unrealistic work station designs. We drew right on the table and had no place to hide our thoughts-in-process. No one was judging. Ideas flowed freely and grew from group input.

Collective brainsqualling.
Collaborative creation is where the creative industry is already going. Stefan pitched a team brainstorming method with co-author Wendy Lee Oldfield that they call brainsqualling. It's a big wave of creativity that comes in fast and then dissipates, to build again later.

Think before you think.
His team gets a creative brief and then thinks about it individually for a week or so. A team of 5-7 people who think differently get together for the brainsquall.

Disarm the room.
Stefan was a master, as noted by the nun getup. How do you get a room full of big egos to leave all that alpha-dog-wanna-be-insecurity at the door? To let loose with good, bad, and half-baked ideas that lead to better ideas?

He told us about a project his company was working on for a tennis client. For the brainsquall, he entered the room in 1980s-era badass John McEnroe attire. Tennis match footage was projected on the walls of the room. In the spirit of McEnroe, he hurled tennis equipment around and threw tantrums.

Limber up those creative muscles.
When the room is fully disarmed, he starts with an exercise to get everyone feeling creative. In this case, they had to come up with a tennis-related super hero.

The power of Naked Tennis Guy.
The favorite imagined superhero? Naked Tennis Guy. Think about it, let's say you're out in the world doing something villainous. Out of the corner of your eye, you see this naked dude – arms crossed, staring you down with extreme vigilante disapproval. While you are completely shocked and caught off guard by the inherent nakedness, he chucks a tennis ball at you. That's it. That is his power.

Unleash the creativity.
For an hour or so, let the ideas flow. Then walk away. Incubate the group ideas. Repeat as necessary.

And, remember, no one expects the Naked Tennis Guy.

[If you want more insight from this workshop, here's an overview from the HOW Conference.]

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